martes, 11 de abril de 2006

Constitution in Crisis

Daniel Franco

Government 2301-2460

Dr. Eileen Lynch

February 2006

5. Constitution in Crisis

Describe the major steps in filling the vacant office of the vice president, and explain how it has been used.

As the video lesson poignantly reminds us, there have been four occasions when the detractors of the legally elected President of the United States objected in the most extreme manner to his office and ended the term of that president along with his life. And the textbook reminds us that, as of 2004, nine vice presidents have dropped the prefix “vice“ and taken their turn as President of the United States.

The Constitution states clearly (in its ambiguous and generalized way) that if the President becomes “unable” or “disabled” to exercise the powers and duties of his office, then the vice president should become the president. But after that, it seems that Congress had to come up with a solution for everything that happened next. For example, as the video lesson reminds us of a moment in history that lives in ignominy in most every living American mind, when President Kennedy was shot by Oswald and/or unidentified cohorts, vice president Johnson assumed the office of the President of the United States, as instructed by the Constitution itself. But this led to many questions as to who should become then the vice president, and also brought to the forefront the doubts concerning the order of succession should both the President and the vice president should become incapacitated or worse. Therefore, it wasn’t until the twenty-fifth amendment was ratified in 1967 that a Constitutional provision was in place for replacing the vice president when his office became vacant. After all, by 2004, our nation had found itself a total of 37 years without a vice president, in 18 occasions. So the 25th amendment sought to minimize the chance that the House speaker or the Senate president pro tempore, or a cabinet member, could become President, unless the president and vice president had died in the same period of time (or together), or unless a president died, resigned, o were impeached while no vice president was accounted for and before Congress had managed to approve a new vice president. The provision in the 25th amendment states that “the president shall nominate a vice president, subject to the approval of a majority of both houses of Congress, whenever that office becomes vacant.”

The first time this amendment was put to use was in October 1973, after Spiro Agnew had resigned amid a veritable whirlwind of shame and corruption allegations. (The fact that he pled no contest should not be construed as a sign of guilt, regardless.) Then President Nixon nominated Gerald Ford to replace Agnew’s vacant post. The office of vice president remained empty for 57 days, however, until the nomination was approved by the Senate (92-3) and the House (387-35) in December. Then, the second time the 25th amendment was used was a few months later, when Nixon took his turn at quitting and left the vacancy ready for his own appointed vice president Ford to assume the helm and control of the nation. President Ford then, in turn, nominated New Yorker Nelson A. Rockefeller, governor, to become vice president, and once again, Congress didn’t let Rockefeller into the vice president’s office until December.

After reviewing the chapter in the textbook and the video lesson, I am confused, however. According to Table 13-4 in the textbook, the order of succession in the event a president is no longer able to serve should be: 1) the vice president, 2) the Speaker of the House, 3) the president pro tempore of the Senate, 4) the Secretary of State, and then the rest of the cabinet. However, in the video lesson, after graphically reminding us of the moment of the assassination attempt against President Reagan, the lesson shows us Alexander Haig (Secretary of State) as he appears in front of the media saying in response to a reporters question about who’s in charge, “… constitutionally, gentleman, you have the president, the vice president and the Secretary of State, in that order…” Perhaps, in the heat of the emergency, Mr. Haig received the wrong teleprompter information. Or, maybe, there were extenuating circumstances for this discrepancy of which we know nothing about from the video program.

Sources:

Democracy Under Pressure: An Introduction to the American System, 10th Edition, Milton C. Cummings, Jr., David Wise, Thomson Wadsworth, © 2005

United States and Texas government I. Programs 1-26 [video recording], Presented by Dallas TeleLearning DCCCD, © 2005

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